Southern California retailers battered by economic turmoil are taking another hit from wildfires that are raging across the region.

This story first appeared in the November 17, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The huge fires have destroyed hundreds of homes, burned thousands of acres, shut key roads and forced the evacuation of thousands of people.

“We are definitely affected; we’re quite concerned for any residents in our trade area,” said Ken Gillett, vice president of operations for mall owner Macerich, which operates The Oaks in Thousand Oaks, Westside Pavilion in Los Angeles and many other centers. Although no Macerich properties appeared to be in imminent danger, “We will absolutely see a noticeable retail sales drop this weekend, but that’s not our primary concern.”

The three major wildfires, which come a month after the last flurry of blazes, are the latest calamity in a region where retailers and manufacturers are suffering because of an epidemic of home foreclosures and plunging values, job losses, tightened credit and reduced consumer spending.

There were no immediate estimates on the potential economic losses caused by the fires.

The blazes were being fed by high winds as temperatures reached the 90s amid low humidity. They spread to the Sylmar area of the San Fernando Valley north of Los Angeles as well as Corona, about 50 miles east of Los Angeles. The Corona fire damaged more than 2,000 acres.

Retailers near the Sylmar fire reported business was way off over the weekend due to the blazes and evacuations.

“Things were bad anyway, now they’re even worse,” said a manager who asked not to be identified at A Touch of Beauty, a store in the Northridge Fashion Center. “Business has been so bad. All we can do now is just ask God for help.”

Sections of Interstate 5, the primary north-south highway in California, were shut down, along with portions of other major roads, including the 14 freeway in Palmdale and a toll road in Orange County.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Riverside and Orange counties. The first fires erupted Thursday night in the luxury enclave of Montecito near Santa Barbara and about 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles, where more than 100 homes were destroyed.

The expanding wildfire near Santa Barbara threatened businesses and homes along the central California coast, though retail outlets along the coast remained open, with some offering emergency assistance to local residents.

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